Is It Time to Re-think the Term “Senior Citizen”?

Aug 29, 2019

In this day and age, it’s not uncommon to hear people discuss the need to evolve words or generalizations about groups of people as we learn more about prejudices or perceptions. People sometimes argue that our culture has become too sensitive to every nuance – until they find themselves on the side of the offended by a term that they don’t feel they reflect or represent.

A recent article in Disrupt Aging discussed whether it’s time to stop using the term “senior citizen”, as the long-held perceptions of “senior citizens” no longer apply. When people think of a senior citizen, they often imagine someone who lacks the ability to pivot, learn new skills, or apply old skills using new tools. 

After all, the last time these folks were called seniors was some 40 years ago as they transitioned into their last grade at secondary school or college.  Back then, being a “senior” was cool.  It meant you were wise and accomplished. People gathered to celebrate your achievements and future potential. But as we age, it would seem the only positive attribute attached to becoming a senior is a discount at the movies or National Parks.

By definition, “senior citizen” refers to someone of retirement age who takes a pension or lives off of investments or subsidies. Ask a people who are in their child-raising years what a senior citizen is, and they will tell you that it’s an age somewhere north of 55, followed by a physical description that isn’t particularly flattering.  They don’t describe contributors, adventurers, business owners or innovative thinkers. They describe white haired slower people who are chasing medical conditions and enjoying their golf carts somewhere that’s mildly warm.

Yet the reality is quite different. Senior citizens today are still doing, acting, and feeling like much of the population.  They like to be physically and mentally active and enjoy contributing to the community and at work. They are thoughtful, mindful, and full of experience that can help propel businesses forward. They love to learn and know how to adapt to change.

So, is it time to evolve the term senior citizen to more accurately reflect this contributing group of our society?  Is there a way to define a new term that better describes wisdom and experience and conjures positive physical attributes?

Should we stop imagining gray hair and senior vitamins and instead focus on the pieces that truly define this part of the society by coming up with a new term that solidifies their ability to proactively help achieve business goals, community goals, and family milestones?

Maybe a better task than trying to find a new term would be to find a new definition that doesn’t necessarily include stereotypical images that are portrayed on posters in the doctor’s office, the mall, or in emails sent by Human Resources about retirement


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